Immunisation drives were picking up in almost every country. And the world was looking up to India’s production capacity for a steady supply, specially to the poorer countries.
India had given out millions of doses as aids to neighbours and friendly countries, shipped out in commercial contracts or to the UN’s Covax program.
By mid-March, India had exported over twice the number of doses it had administered at home. Modi government’s Vaccine Maitri initiative seemed well on track.
But then the story changed.
The daily infection rate, that was on a steady decline, took a reverse turn, almost with a vengeance.
The government came under pressure over vaccine exports. Some opposition parties started questioning the policy, and demanded that exports be curtailed till the entire population is immunised.
Union heath minister Harsh Vardhan made a statement in Parliament that vaccines are not being exported at the expense of Indians. He assured that experts and a government committee were keeping a check on domestic requirements.
And just days later, the screws were tightened on exports.
All major exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine, being manufactured by Pune’s Serum Institute, were put on hold. The ripples were felt worldwide, as over 180 counties were to receive the drug through WHO’s Covax vaccine sharing, and India was a major supplier.
Only last week, the European Union asked India to allow it to buy 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Serum Institute to offset supply shortfall from European plants.
Britain too is pressuring for the doses it had ordered from Serum.
The world’s dependence on India for the vaccine can be gauged from the fact that a total of 84 countries have so far received India-made vaccines, either through grant, commercial purchase or via WHO’s Covax program.
With the entire population over 45 years now eligible for vaccine, the domestic demand is expected to see an exponential surge. And that puts a question on exports in the near future.
The government has clearly stated that there is no ban on export of vaccines. However there might be a need to “calibrate supply schedules from time to time,” given India’s current manufacturing capacity and requirements for its vaccination program.